Author Archives: aaremo
I remember a number of years ago a wise friend once saying to me “Silence is golden: if you can’t improve upon it, don’t even try”. I’m going to be away for a bit, making the most of the silence, but I’ll be back next month and I will hopefully have a few interesting things worth breaking the silence to share. I’ve found it very difficult keeping up with things the past couple of months, and hard finding the time to either write or read blogs, but I intend to get back into the swing of things next month. Until then, take care and speak soon
Meditation needs no introduction. Nowadays there’s a lot of mainstream attention given to its amazing effectiveness at not only reducing psychological stress, anxiety, depression, emotional issues, but also the enormous physical health benefits it produces. I believe it’s something every school kid should be taught from a young age. It’s every bit as important as the ‘three Rs’ — more so in fact! Meditation is one of the things that has kept me sane(ish!) in life.
I’ve done many different techniques of meditation over the years, from TM to zen, shikantaza, Taoist, mindfulness, you name it. Recently I’ve been employing the vipassana meditation approach for observing thought. It’s been a full-on few months, with a few stressful things going on, and this can set the mind off on all kinds of tangents. Perhaps the most incredible benefit of meditation is that it enables us to take the perspective of the witnessing awareness, rather than getting pulled in by and identifying with the content of our mind. The ability to simply witness the thoughts, emotions and images that arise in our minds, enables us to detach from them and see them as they are: transient epiphenomena, like clouds rising up from the ocean, passing across the sky and then dissolving again as other clouds take their place. Rather than getting lost in thoughts, being able to witness them as they come and go is tremendously liberating — it liberates us from the tyranny of our own mind! “My mind is an entrenched tyrant”, Arjuna exclaims at one point in the Bhagavad Gita. And so it is for most of us!
Here’s a very good guided meditation for observing the thought process. Done on a regular basis, I’m willing to bet that you’ll begin to experience a greater peace of mind, and the ability to detach from negative thoughts instead of continuously being pulled in by them and suffering accordingly. I hope you find it of use. After receiving a few such requests, I plan to create my own meditation series in the next few months
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Returning is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
All of creation is born of the corporeal.
The corporeal is born of the incorporeal.
The end is in the beginning. The infinite is like an blank sheet of paper; empty, yet filled with the potentiality of all things. The moment a mark is made, something appears out of nothing. For a time it seems to exist independently, although in truth we can only perceive its ‘being’ (the manifest) by contrasting it with the counterpoint, the vast space of ‘non-being’ (the unmanifest) from which it emerges and on which it relies for existence. Eventually the pen-mark fades and the manifest again dissolves back into unmanifest; the ‘something’ returns to the ‘nothing’.
We’re all on a return trip. People naturally cling to their beingness and are hesitant to let it go. It’s often not until death comes that we are forced to let go of our conceptual sense of reality. It’s only then we might realise that who and what we truly are is not defined by things, possessions, achievements, thoughts or beliefs; but by something altogether deeper and more enduring: the innate fullness of being, free of ‘being-this’ and ‘being-that’.
From the Isha Upanishad comes the following famous mantra:
Om Purnamadah Purnamidam
Om shanti, shanti, shanti
The translation is something along the lines of:
This is full. That is full.
From fullness, fullness comes.
When fullness is taken away, fullness still remains.
Om peace, peace, peace.
I’m not an asshole. I don’t suppose anyone ever thinks they are, even if by all accounts they’re a textbook case. If you want to meet an asshole, there are plenty of them out there to choose from; sadly one never has to look that far.
I’m not perfect either. As a person I’m as flawed as anyone. I have my strengths, but I also have areas in which I’m not as proficient as I might like. I’m one of those creative people who’s always been highly sensitive — at times almost too much so. As a kid I retreated into my own world a lot, and I still do. My forays into extroversion and outward activity are usually by necessity followed by inward retreats. I have a dichotomous nature, and often feel pulled in different directions simultaneously. I yearn to connect with people, but I also need solitude in order to function. I veer between dispassion and uncontrolled passion. I can seem aloof at times, and perhaps a little too chilled out, but when provoked I can be a stubborn bulldog willing to growl, snap and fight my corner. I have things I care deeply about and am willing to fight for, but I’m also under no illusion that the reality I experience is, well… a kind of illusion.
Some days I’m intensely zen — my mind is like a still lake, my sense perceptions are heightened and I feel radiantly alive and connected, sometimes blissfully so. Then other days I get pulled under by old conditioning and dragged back into samsara. My mind becomes agitated again and I temporarily lose the effortless peace of a sattvic mind state. I’m learning to stabilise that by changing the way I relate to the world, others and life, and realising that I’m actually OK as I am.
I learned from studying — and endeavouring to live — vedanta that the key to peace in life is to stop trying to make yourself into something that you’re not. To paraphrase the Bhagavad Gita, it’s better to follow your own nature imperfectly than it is to follow someone else’s perfectly. In terms of the personality level, we are simply made the way we are, and we don’t have much say in the matter. While there’s certainly room to improve — especially if you’re one of those assholes I mentioned — most the time the key is to accept who and what we are and flow with it. It’s how we’re wired, and when we resist our own nature, we obstruct ourselves — and we obstruct life — which inevitably leads to suffering.
We can accept ourselves, imperfections and all, because ultimately we transcend the sum of our parts.
The logic of vedanta is clear on this, and it’d take too long for me to explore it in detail here, but we aren’t the person we think we are anyway. We can observe that person, we can observe the thoughts, emotions, desires, compulsions and beliefs that comprise that so-called person. Anything observable to us cannot BE us, just as anything observable to the eye cannot be the eye. The eye is that which sees, not that which is seen. We habitually confuse the object with the subject because the subject (awareness) is so subtle most people are ironically barely even aware of it.
Ultimately we’re not our little personality or ego, any more than we’re our thoughts or beliefs. They are temporal and always changing. They’re observable, transient ephiphenoma. That which observes is awareness — the awareness that looks out of our eyes right now, which is the very same awareness that looked out of our eyes as a baby and which will look out of our eyes when we’re 80. Regardless of the content that appears in it, it never actually changes. It’s the light that illumines all our experiences and that transcends them. It’s there before, during and after every experience. And when we begin to become aware of that awareness, an amazing shift starts to happen…..
It’s like being in a dream and believing you are the dream character when you suddenly realise that you’re dreaming; you are neither the dream or the dream figure, but the awareness in which the dream happens. I don’t actually know how common lucid dreaming is, but I’ve had a few experiences with it. It’s the perfect analogy for life as well — what we should all be striving for is lucid living.
In vedanta this awareness is called the Self, as distinguished from the lower-case ‘self’. In the words of my teacher James Swartz:
“It is not a supreme or exalted awareness beyond the grasp of the mind. It is the ever present essence of the mind. It is the non-physical “light” that makes experience possible. It is the container of the experience and experience is the content. Self-ignorance is any statement, belief or opinion about myself that does not correspond to the truth: I am whole and complete ordinary actionless awareness. The continuous, effortless discrimination between awareness and the phenomena appearing in it is enlightenment.“
So which are you? The person that you observe yourself to be — or that which observes?
The Tao does nothing,
yet leaves nothing undone.
If rulers could centre themselves in it,
the whole world would be transformed.
People would be content
with their lives and free of desire.
When life is simple,
pretenses fall away;
our essential nature shines through.
When there is no desire,
all things are at peace.
When there is silence,
one finds the anchor of the universe
This verse is especially noteworthy for the famous phrase “the Tao does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone.” It’s a notion that bears contemplation. One of the key themes of the Tao Te Ching is coming into alignment with the natural flow of life, and Lao Tzu frequently urges us to do this by observing and emulating the natural world.
Nature has no intention or desires of its own. It doesn’t set out to do anything. And yet through it, all things happen. There are cycles of birth and death, growth, expansion and contraction. All processes unfold of their own accord, fuelled by the subtle yet infinite intelligence of the Tao.
Perhaps from this we can learn to stop striving to make life conform to the image we have of how it ‘should’ be. When we instead relax, let go and trust, allowing life to be what it is, we find that things invariably take care of themselves anyway. Life becomes simpler, less stressful and we realise that everything is actually okay as it is, without us having to do everything. We do nothing, but life works through and around us, leaving nothing left undone.
What we often find is the moment we give up the desire for things to be more/different/better – and the illusion that we have to continually do in order to somehow prop up the entire universe – we fall into a very natural, spontaneous sense of peace.
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Should you want to contain something,
you must first let it expand.
Should you want to weaken something,
you must first let it grow strong.
Should you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.
The lesson here is called
the wisdom of obscurity.
The gentle outlasts the strong.
The obscure outlasts the obvious.
The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just allow people to see the results.
The Tao Te Ching is filled with paradox — which is maybe only appropriate because life is one big paradox!
There’s often little truth in the obvious — however widespread its acceptance — and ‘common sense’ is usually a contradiction in terms. The most apparent common sense solutions sometimes just push what we want further out of reach. Many times it’s not until we adopt the opposite approach that we succeed in getting what we want; with no struggle or fretting and without the need to grasp and claw our way toward it.
One of the central themes of the Tao Te Ching is to let go and allow life to be. The moment we cease trying to control and manipulate is the moment life begins to flow. Things come to us in the right time and in the right way, if it’s in accordance with the totality.
Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate some of the key conditioning of our culture, which leads us to believe that strength comes through force, harshness, aggressiveness, covetousness and being as hard, fast and unstoppable as we can.
Lao Tzu suggests it may well be the exact opposite: that true power stems from gentleness, softness and allowing things to ripen and unfold in their own time. There’s even evidence to support this: it’s been shown that people with kinder, gentler dispositions tend to enjoy greater health and longevity than those of a more aggressive, grasping and restless nature. It’s therefore a good idea to try to eliminate the latter and cultivate more of the former in our lives.
I hold my hand up, I’ve been struggling to blog lately.
I’m hard at work doing an extensive rewrite of my second novel, THE KEY OF ALANAR, which will be published next year. I love writing, it’s one of the things I’ve never questioned doing in life, but it can be pretty tough going. I think when it comes to writing, any measure of success is not so much down to talent as it is to blood, sweat and occasional tears — specifically, being willing to spend hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours working at it.
Writing can be a pretty lonely affair. Although I’m immersing myself in whole other worlds, with exciting characters that are very real to me, there’s not much of a social aspect to writing. It’s a solitary business; I basically have to shut myself away in a room and force myself to get words down on the page. There’s no feeling on earth like it when I’m in the zone and things are going well, but it’s insanely frustrating when I find myself struggling on the same page — or even paragraph! — for hours and sometimes days at a time.
Something that I’ve found very helpful — and this doesn’t just apply to writing, but to every aspect of life — is to remind myself why I’m doing it.
Obviously I have a reason for writing and it’s vital that it be a good enough reason to justify all the time and effort spent doing it. It helps if that reason is something a little more inspiring than “to make money”! So to keep me motivated and help get me back in the flow, I remind myself why I write, why the story I’m telling is important to me and why the world needs to hear it.
If you’ve read my first novel ELADRIA you probably got the sense that I did my best to combine an adventure story with a certain level of depth. It was a story about life, the nature of reality, purpose and going from a state of lack and loss to a place of wholeness. I created an entire philosophy based on Taoism and vedanta and wove it into an action-packed story filled with twists and turns. The next book is written in a similar style; in fact in many ways it’s a parallel story rather than a sequel (it’s not until you read it that you’ll understand what I mean by that!)
So basically I keep asking myself: why am I writing this? Why am I telling this story? Why does the world need to hear it?
What does this do? It keeps me on track and aligned with my purpose. It reminds me that I have a good reason for investing this time and energy in the project and that I’m creating something worthwhile that will hopefully benefit the world in some way. I actually first started creating this story 18 years ago, so I’ve invested a significant portion of my life working on it. Gotta keep on going!
The reason I’m sharing this is that I’ve found it helpful to use this approach on just about anything I’m doing or contemplating doing in life.
When we ask ourself “why am I doing this?” we often gain great insight. We quickly realise whether or not it’s something that’s actually important to us and is worthy of our time and energy. Bear in mind that our time in this world is finite. We need to use that time wisely, because it’s non-refundable!
I recommend trying this simple technique until it becomes a habit to question your daily doings! It’s a good way of building motivation to do what we really need and want to do, keeping us on track and aligned with a sense of purpose — and also getting us to realise where we might be wasting our time and energy on things that really don’t matter.
I’ll close with one of my favourite Nietzsche quotes: